One of my earliest regrets in life was loaning my Nutshell Library of Maurice Sendak miniature books to a careless friend down the street. I've always been too nice. I should've said no. But I said yes, and when I got my miniature library back, the little books I treasured dearly were falling apart, the pages loose, the bindings ruined. I cried and cried and thought twice about loaning books again. My mom took out the scotch tape and salvaged the collection. I still have my Nutshell Library today. "Alligators All Around," an illustrated alphabet. "J: juggling jelly beans. K: keeping kangaroos." "One Was Johnny," a counting book. "3 was a cat who chased the rat. 4 was a dog who came in and sat." "Chicken Soup With Rice," a book of months. "In January it's so nice/while sipping on the sliding ice/to sip hot chicken soup with rice./Sipping once, sipping twice, sipping chicken soup with rice." My favorite tiny Sendak, the one that's stayed with me, thematically, all my life: "Pierre: A Cautionary Tale."
Pierre: He does care!
Pierre is a pissy little boy who doesn't care about anything. "One day his mother said when Pierre climbed out of bed, 'Good morning, darling boy, you are my only joy. Pierre said, 'I don't care!" Throughout the story, the first chapter book I ever read, Pierre is such a pain in the ass that his fed-up parents leave him at home. (Hello? Abandonment issues?) But Pierre doesn't care, not even when a hungry lion pays a call, and asks if he'd like to die. The answer: "I don't care!" Well, you can probably guess what happens next. When Mom and Dad come home, they find the lion in bed and fear, "Pierre is surely dead!" They rush the lion into town, the doctor turns him upside down, the lion gives a roar and Pierre falls out upon the floor. Lesson learned! "The moral of the Pierre is: Care!" I always sensed some darker subtext in Sendak's books: Be good, or else. "Where The Wild Things Are," "In The Night Kitchen." I adore them all. I loved reading them when I was a kid. I loved reading them to my kids. So, rest in peace, Mr. Sendak. And thank you for sharing your brilliance with the SJG. You formed the foundation of my core belief system. Some days, the lion spits you out. Some days, the lion eats you whole.